Saturday, February 7, 2009

The New Routine: Part I

Woah... that was quite a January. A whole lot of new.

New year.

New President.

And biggest change of all ... new routine for getting my daughter to and from school.


In May 2007, when I started this experiment of getting around without a car, it was spring. Walking was fun and full of sun most days, and my daughter attended our "neighborhood" school... 8/10 of a mile from home. I enjoy walking with my daughter, she tells me all kinds of things I wouldn't know otherwise when we walk together. I hear about things "this kid" did to "that kid", things the teacher said, things that are up between her and her friends... all kinds of things. I think walking has got to be good for relationships.

I walked her to school with running gear on, dropped her off, stretched and jogged home -- adding a few extra blocks to make sure the jog was at least a mile. I'd get home, shower, dress for work and head to my own bus stop. Overall, an invigorating way to start to the day.

At the end of the 2006-2007 school year, that school building closed for renovations for a year and a half. In September 2007, students split up into a few different locations with the bulk of the kids (my daughter included) heading to a temporary location 1.2 miles from our house.

There was no need to walk. She got yellow bus service.

Busing kids to school works likes this: districts are reimbursed for transporting students who reside more than 1.5 miles from their schools, and districts can put special policies in place to transport students who live closer, but in most cases (if not all), school districts are not reimbursed for any such enhanced transportation services. Part of the Albany City School District Facilities Plan expanded bus service for students in temporary school buildings to > .5 mile.

What did that mean for me?

I got lazy.

I was only required to be sure my daughter made it to the corner where a yellow bus picked her up each morning to take her to school. She had fun experiencing the whole taking-the-yellow-school-bus thing -- something that I never had growing up in NYC. After the bus picked her up, I was on my way to work -- work for me changed during that year and a half from a downtown location to a location far, far on the outskirts of Albany on Washington Avenue Extension.

This past September I realized my lazy yellow bus days would be coming to an end. Our neighborhood school's renovations would be complete in January. January. January is cold in Albany, and I was without a car. I started thinking about this -- thinking about when I went to school in NYC, we got transit passes -- and students of all ages still get transit passes there to get to and from school. In October, I spoke during the public comment period at a school board meeting about my experiment of getting around town without a car, and my concerns for families in the district who don't have cars. I've had conversations with a number of board members since then, and they agree that transportation is a huge issue -- but we still don't have a solution.

January arrived and the renovations were complete -- school re-opened.

January arrived and it was cold.

January arrived and the lazy corner bus service was no more. It was time for me to experience life as a parent without a car in an Albany winter the way that most parents without cars experience it --- freezing.

Google Transit tells us that walking to school takes about 15 minutes. Google Transit, also has the following disclaimer, "Walking directions are in beta.Use caution – This route may be missing sidewalks or pedestrian paths. "


I guess that translates to, "Use Caution, sidewalk snow and ice removal codes are a joke in Albany. Try ice skates."

Walking to school has been taking us more than 15 minutes. Usually at least 20. Sometimes, we'll walk more than 1/2 way to school, and the timing is right to catch a bus for the last 3/10 mile. It costs a dollar (until April 1, when the fare goes up) to get my daughter on the bus -- not economical, but when you're frozen and rushing to get a kid to school and then get all the Washington Avenue Extension from a totally new location that is not nearly as direct as the pre-January bus stop from back in the "good ol' school bus days"... that dollar becomes worth it -- quickly.

Sometimes, there's no bus in sight and it's so cold that we'll stop by Stewart's to warm up.

Sometimes, she gets a ride from daddy or a friend -- but she's committed to walking, and so we brave the cold together: a mother-daughter bonding experience.

We arrive at school, say goodbye -- and I'm on my way to work.

Stay tuned for Part II of the New Routine where I attempt to figure out the fastest way to get to Washington Avenue Extension from New Scotland Elementary School.